At Iowa statehouse, a day of advocacy for clean water, healthy environment

Participants gather in the statehouse rotunda for a press conference.

Participants gather in the statehouse rotunda for a press conference.

Representatives from nearly 30 organizations and over 100 individual Iowans from around the state braved blustery conditions and surprise snowfall Tuesday to assemble at the statehouse to voice support of clean water and a healthy environment.

At the event, sponsored by the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa REAP Alliance, and Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Coalition, together with numerous other groups, advocates issued a clear message:  natural resource funding is critical for Iowa’s future.

In a press conference, Ed Raber, director of the Washington Economic Development Group (WEDG), praised Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program which makes grants for local projects like watershed protection and development of recreational trails all over Iowa.

He credited the program with achieving “community-changing” impact in communities like Wellman and Riverside, noting “without REAP, a program that we can apply to every year and get guidance from the Iowa DNR, these projects never would have happened.”

“I don’t for a minute believe that the current funding level has exhausted all the need—or the community-changing and environment-changing issues that are out there.  I really look forward to seeing more resources allocated to REAP.”

State Senator Bob Dvorsky, addressing those assembled, said “we have the resources” to fully fund REAP with the $20 million the program was created to receive.  He called on Iowans to educate their representatives about the benefits the program provides all over the state.

“We don’t want to settle for a minimalist approach,” said Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council.   “We want to be able to accomplish as much as possible this session.”

At the event, the Council called for four main actions for clean water and a healthy environment:

  • Funding the Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.  A super-majority of Iowans created this constitutionally protected fund in 2010, and legislation introduced this year would finance the fund with a 3/8 cent sales tax increase, providing an estimated $120 million each year for conservation action.
  • Continuing funding for lake and river restoration, as well as REAP.  The Governor’s proposed budget significantly reduces funding for programs that enhance public enjoyment of Iowa’s lakes and rivers, and continues to provide the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program funds far short of the $20 million the program was designed to receive.  More investment in these programs is needed.
  • Supporting effective agricultural conservation.  State government’s strategy for reducing nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in Iowa’s waterways lacks clear goals and accountability.  The legislature could provide both in addition to funding the Watershed Improvement Review Board which provides critical support for local watershed efforts.
  • Provide the resources necessary to enforce existing laws.  A pending agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DNR will result in a major inspection effort to ensure nearly 8,000 Iowa livestock facilities do not discharge manure into local waters.  DNR needs additional staff to complete this work without weakening its efforts in other areas.
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